Power play proves deadly for Illini as Lindenwood Lions deal men second loss of season on the road last weekend

By Jason Grodsky

With five of its top players and its head coach overseas participating in the Winter World University Games, the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s No. 1-ranked Illinois men’s hockey club has started its second-semester schedule 3-1.

The Illini opened the second half of the season with a pair of road wins against North Dakota State on Jan. 5 and 6, outscoring and outshooting the Bison 11-5 and 87-61 in the two respective games.

Illinois continued its winning streak in the first game of last weekend’s set versus No. 7-ranked Lindenwood, beating the Lions 4-1 in the weekend opener.

The Illini, however, were on the wrong end of a 3-2 game against the Lions Saturday afternoon, handing Illinois just its second loss of the season.

“So far, so good,” senior goaltender Mike DeGeorge said. “The first weekend back we were a little rusty, but walking away with two wins on the road was great. But this past weekend against Lindenwood we got handed our second loss of the season and allowed four power play goals, so we have to play better.”

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In Illinois’ three wins prior to the loss, the Illini’s special teams were spectacular, especially its penalty kill.

Illinois had given up just two power-play goals on 24 power-play chances and had scored two shorthanded goals courtesy of freshman forward J.J. Heredia and junior forward Alex Park. Its own power play had netted five goals in 13 opportunities.

“We were able to get some goals from some unlikely scorers, and those are the types of things we’re going to need over the next couple of weeks with some of our top line players out of the country,” assistant coach Darin Trulock said.

But in the Illini’s first defeat of the second semester, Illinois allowed the Lions to convert on three of six power-play opportunities. It was only able to score once on the power play despite having a man advantage seven times.

“Special teams let us down Saturday,” Trulock said. “We had plenty of opportunities but didn’t capitalize. Our penalty kill was a big problem, and there are no excuses. We just didn’t do a good job.”

With the split against Lindenwood, the Illini captured four of the eight possible points up for grabs in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League.

Illinois is currently second in the CSCHL standings with 40 points, while Lindenwood sits in third place in the conference with 32 points.

The Illini are just eight points behind conference leader Ohio, who swept Eastern Michigan in two CSCHL games last weekend.

Illinois, however, has played six fewer conference games than Ohio and will have a chance to gain on the Bobcats as the season progresses.

“We still control our own destiny in the league,” DeGeorge said. “We pretty much have to win out in our league games, so these next few games coming up are going to be huge for us. We just have to come out and work hard for them.”

Illini head coach leads U.S. University team to win

Illinois men’s hockey head coach Chad Cassel led the United States University Select Team to a 1-0 victory over West Virginia University on Jan. 14 in the team’s lone exhibition match prior to its departure for Torino, Italy.

Despite outshooting the Mountaineers 21-5 during the first two periods, Team U.S.A wasn’t able to find the back of the net until Western Michigan’s Michael Podelnyk scored the team’s lone goal with less than five minutes left to play in regulation.

“I was really happy with how we played,” Cassel said in a press release. “For our first time playing together, I was impressed by how we controlled the game. We created a lot of offensive opportunities, and during five-on-five play we didn’t give them anything.”

Team U.S.A will open play at the 2007 Winter World University Games on Thursday with its first game in pool play against Canada. Along with Canada, the Untied States are joined by Korea, Russia and Slovakia in Pool B.